Crossing Boundaries - Changing Career Paths

by Shakila Rajendra

Photo Credit: Shakila Rajendra Left: As speaker at the International Congress for Conservation Biology to talk about

sustainability and diversity in business Right: Photoshoot with some of the top models in Malaysia during publishing days

As with the life of careers, women inevitably find themselves at pivotal crossroads every now and then. Sometimes solicited, other times not.

Regardless, any prospect of change usually floods our female psyche with endless worry. That all too familiar sense of panic creeps in. You feel a huge lump at the back of your throat.

Women tend to begin their career path by graduating from some form of educational institution. They enter the job market, find an industry consistent with what they studied, and carve out their career from there. Afterall, we’ve got to pay off that college loan. Or at least make back some of that money our parents forked out.

For some of us, we knew from the word ‘go’ which industry we wanted to forge our careers in.

Others enter the job market having no idea at all which industry might suit them (let’s face it, this applies to most of us) then find their groove along the way.

And then there are those like yours truly, who start our careers in one industry only to realise half way through, we might want something entirely different. Ouch much?

I first worked as an editor for an environmental NGO. Then I moved on to the publishing media industry where I embarked on a successful career as editor at a women’s magazine. It was fun and I loved most minutes of it.

Credit: Shakila Rajendra (third from right), The Marie Claire Malaysia team during the annual event for

Women of Style & Substance

Yet deep down, I knew it was in the environmental area that I wanted to make an impact. Problem was, I wasn’t sure how I could transition to a science-based industry after having worked years in the creative industry.

Gradually I figured the best way would be to further my studies in environmental policy. But that would mean having to take a career break and having the financial resources to do it! To top it off, having been away from academia for some 10 years by then, there was the apprehension about going back to school!

Despite the many reasons not to pursue my heart, fate would generously bestow the scholarship I needed. Before I knew it, I was packing my bags for the UK to do that dream postgraduate degree in Energy & Climate Change Policy.

Credit: Shakila Rajendra (second from left), Study visit to Brussels with the Global Energy &

Climate Change Policy classmates

But that wasn’t quite the fairy tale ending. It was merely the beginning.

On returning to Kuala Lumpur, I had to find a way to put that shiny new postgrad degree to good use. That meant having to start right at the bottom of the food chain. A humble career reset.

As I walked into all-male meetings, depending on the day, I was even mistaken for the intern or coffee lady! But I pressed on anyway, working my way up and learning as much as I could along the way (that included having to literally make a glossary in my note book of corporate terms I did not understand).

Credit: Shakila Rajendra (second from right), with Malaysia’s then Minister of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change (Yeo Bee Yin - third from left) after winning BEST SME at the

Sustainability Business Awards 2018

Eventually, I landed a senior consulting position at a Big Four. Though thrilled initially, soon enough, I found myself ensnared in a game of thrones within the corporate world. It became clear that in order to stick to my principles of making a positive impact in an area I really, truly believed in, I would have to leave the firm. So I handed in my resignation. Amidst the economic anxieties surrounding Covid-19.

With that, I’m once more standing at a career crossroads.

This time, I am thinking of starting out a consultancy on my own. An exciting albeit scary prospect. Doubt at every turn, but I have to at least try.

Career paths do take on different turns in our ever-changing world. Your career sometimes doesn’t quite look like how you first imagined it to be. We’ve got to just shape it as we go.

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